After a few more days down under, some more observations:
- Overall, people in Sydney are not nearly as fat as Americans. What is even more remarkable is that I have not seen any fat children. It takes getting out of America to realize that no, 10-year-olds don’t typically have rolls of fat around their bellies.
- I’ve spent hours walking throughout downtown Sydney, in both the residential outskirts, the business office areas, and the tony shopping districts. I have yet to see a single police officer on patrol. Maybe they’re all undercover, but still – in most US cities, there is always a uniformed police presence.
- Even though I’m sure there are a number of tourists among the crowds, people on the streets know how to walk without bumping into others. Coming from New York City, I always took this skill for granted – until the first time I tried walking through Boston. Boston is a great town, but no one seems to have any awareness of their surroundings as they walk down the street. Since then I’ve noticed that each city I’ve been in has a general level of sidewalk awareness, though none are close to Boston in terms of obliviousness. Sydney is the first city which approaches NYC in this regard.
- I always had the impression that Aussies were heavy beer drinkers – perhaps too many Crocodile Dundee movies. Yet it is difficult to buy beer here unless you know where to look. Convenience stores don’t sell it; supermarkets don’t sell it. The only place I’ve found to buy a beer are the “bottle stores” (their ‘liquor stores’). And while I’ve seen plenty of local beers on tap, I’ve yet to see Fosters anywhere. I’ll bet that if you ask Americans to name an Australian beer, the only one they know of is Fosters.
- Understanding people speaking with the native accent isn’t too bad, but it is much, much more difficult to understand them on TV. I initially thought that it was due to crappy speakers on the TV in my hotel, but flipping around I found an old American movie, and the voices were crystal clear. Flip back to an Australian show, and I get about every third word.
I arrived in Sydney this morning. Not only is this my first time in Australia, it’s my first time in a place where cars drive on the left side of the road. I took a cab from the airport, so I didn’t have to deal with it from behind the wheel, but it still seemed very odd visually. Still, it was pretty much what I had anticipated.
What I didn’t anticipate, though, was how different it would be as a pedestrian. When crossing the street, I reflexively turned to the left to look for oncoming traffic, and seeing none, began to cross… until I heard something coming from my right! The reversed traffic flow meant that I had to re-learn how to cross a street!
There is another, much more subtle effect of this that I noticed as a pedestrian: when walking along the sidewalk, I naturally keep to the right, but here more often than not, people keep to the left while walking, too. I suppose that makes sense, given the convention for automobiles, but it was surprising nonetheless. It’s striking how such small differences can change your routine so dramatically by making you focus on things you would normally take for granted.
Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, is both ground-breaking and trivial at the same time. It’s a huge change from a legal perspective, but more of a “duh!” moment in human progress.
We look back 40 years or so, and see the landmark cases that struck down laws against interracial marriage, and have a hard time imagining living in a world where you can’t marry the person you love because of their skin color. From our perspective, those decisions were trivial: of course you should be able to marry someone regardless of their skin color or eye shape. That’s just silly to think otherwise.
It is my sincere hope that 40 years from now, people will look back on this decision and have a similar “duh!” reaction to it.
In a couple of days I’ll be heading out to Australia for a couple of weeks. My proposal for a talk at PyCon Australia had been accepted, and coincidentally Rackspace just launched our cloud in our Sydney datacenter. So I’ll be flying to Sydney to meet all the Rackers in the Sydney office, and then flying the following week to Hobart, Tasmania for the conference.
Except for a trip to Italy on my honeymoon 27 years ago, I have never left the Americas. I have never been south of the Equator. This is going to be a brand-new experience for me, so I’m using it as my motivation to start writing again. I had deliberately avoided blogging for years because I tend to obsess on editing: just one more tweak to that phrasing, or maybe choose a synonym here, or… well, you get the idea. A great example of perfect being the enemy of the good. I’m resolving to change that by instituting a one edit rule: after the post is written, I’ll go over it once, and then publish it. I’m curious to see how difficult that will be to follow!